Christianity Church of England & Ministry Curate's Life

Dog Collar Dilemma: women’s clericals – what on earth to wear?!

As a #NewRev and as a woman, I have been experimenting with how to wear the collar. Before ordination it was, to be honest, a bit of a blur, I mean anyone else try on their first collar and totally freak out?

Of course there were rounds of tatfests and clerical fairs, but they really weren’t really much help because you just don’t know until you do it what you’re going to need, and anyway it’s all so blinking expensive. Then to top it all off, you google ‘dog collar’ in a fit of frustration and find you can get any collar or style, diamante encrusted, rainbow themed… for your pet.

So this is the first in a series of posts, a sort of round-up, based on what I’ve discovered so far and including advice from others, around how to wear your collar, what to wear and how to rock it with style 😉 and big thanks to the Clergy Mummies crew for sharing their thoughts on this, some of whom are quoted!

(just to clarify I’m not talking about vestments, simply what to wear with, or how to wear the collar).

So this first post is some starting advice on what you might need to look at, then following posts will be on suppliers, finding your own Vicar-chic style and then a couple of guest posts too. I really hope these are useful especially for those #NewRevs like me who are wrestling with all of this, but feel free to comment or ask questions that you might like to know more about.

Choices choices

Ok so the first thing is, what kind of clerical collar do you want? Officially these are the terms, though of course they get called all sorts and actually everyone uses the term ‘dog collar’ but as a guide:

Anglican collar
(as above in my pic) – slip in tab (the tab collar is usually a white bit of plastic that can be removed easily. And yes any old bit of cardboard will do, or ala Vicar of Dibley, a bit of fairy liquid bottle, though the inserts only cost about £1 each, you might need to know that in an emergency!)

Roman Collar – full collar, slightly set above the shirt, still shows the tab but with white round top (also called tonsure). I couldn’t find a woman in one of these…

Dog Collar, outer white ring, goes all the way round, so no tab just a white ring, As seen here worn by the fabulous Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Most of these you can either get as part of the shirt, or as a separate ‘collarette’ which attaches with sort of cufflinks (and frankly looks far too much like hard work for me).

Of course you may like to choose according to your theology or style of churchmanship, although these days it’s far less obvious. I saw a post the other day talking about what coloured clerical shirts represent, well call me shallow but I wear black for fashion reasons not because I’m declaring my doctrinal views. And this could be a reason why… yellow??? (ok, ok if you really like yellow that’s fine…)

However it is worth just bearing in mind (not yellow of course, just what you might be portraying in your collar choice).

Anyway, I go for the tab collar insert, which is very popular, as it just seems the easiest and most comfortable, but you need to find out what works for you – if you can go somewhere to try things on, do give it a go. I’ll be doing another post on clerical outfitters later on.

Shirts, bibs and cropped tops…

Of course the collar needs to be attached to something (Though I did see this from Rev Jo Jepson, so maybe not…)

So the options are:

Standard clerical shirts, made with the relevant hole for the tab. These days you can get these made in the right shape for a woman, thank goodness, although I have heard they can still be rather hit and miss, so try to get a recommendation from someone you know.

Cropped tops or bib stocks which can be worn under other items of clothing. The cropped tops are usually made of cotton jersey to sit well underneath other clothing, and therefore tend to fit a bit better with a bit of stretch. There is a lot of love for these from clergy women. Though as someone pointed out, the down side can be in the winter when you end up with a cold tummy, so another alternative is to get a sleeveless cotton jersey top with collar insert.

Original design/ made to measure of which there is a vast array, from polo shirts to dresses, from jersey tops to jumpers. Some companies also have the option of sending in your own material which is great if you want something really original.

Do it Yourself

Of course the other option if you are handy with a needle or know someone who is, is to buy high street clothing and adapt it. Anything with a roll neck collar, and some with a high collar, or standard shirt collars can be adapted to take a tab collar insert.

I’ve seen this done with dresses, jumpers and other items too, and in fact current fashion means there are a lot of options out there. Body’s are really in – a kind of a cross between a T-shirt and a swim suit – HM have these with roll necks so could be adapted to go under outer clothing, and apparently the latest Matalan catalogue has some good things with high necks that could be adapted also.

Susie noted on adapting that ‘it’s much cheaper, the fit is ideal for me, and I get to wear the designs and colours, that and pattern that suits me’ and Sarah said ‘I’d much prefer to spend the money on a nice dress that I can wear with or without bib.’ Good points because clerical wear does tend to be quite pricey.

Really what you choose is down to personal choice. My favourite is a cropped top because I choose to wear my regular clothes as much as possible. It means less buying of new clothing as you can use what you have. However they can be pricey, only marginally cheaper that a clerical shirt in fact.

What else to watch out for?

Sizing for women 

One thing to bear in mind is sizing. Some of the clerical outfitter companies have been around for donkeys years and are still in the mindset of menswear, so even when you buy something shaped for a woman, it doesn’t quite work. One outfitter was named for their only concession to womenswear being the way the buttons do up!

You can order things to be made to measure which can be equally problematic but usually gives a better cut/fit. On this I’ve heard various things on sizing. So firstly, check exactly what the company means when they ask for specific measurements, even with their sometimes lengthy instructions there can be room for error, so just call them and clarify. Secondly, if you know someone who knows about dressmaking ask them to measure you – or failing that someone who knows you well. It’s almost impossible to measure yourself well but just think about who you might want to do your bust measurements… #JustSaying

Paulette also noted, check your collar size too – nothing worse than a tight fitting neck, oxygen is kind of important… 😉


On this, make sure you think about where to put your microphone if you are in a church (or might visit one) that uses radio mikes with battery packs. The mike needs to clip on to your clothing, either down the centre of the shirt where it buttons up, or on the collar, and the battery pack can go in a pocket or on your waistband. I have already fallen foul of this, turning up in a dress with no waist band and having to clip the battery pack onto my collar, under my hair at the back. I felt like the hunchback of notredame… If you wear vestments this is less of an issue of course – something to be said for not being a raving charismatic I guess.


My Godfather once set his cassock alight on a candle on the altar – whilst he was wearing it. Not the kind of Holy Fire you want in any service – thankfully he was ok and I got the insurance replacement cassock so that worked out rather well 😉 But, if not in vestments, watch out for long sleeves or anything drapey.


I know I said I wasn’t talking about vestments but this kind of fits – lots of us love to wear heels, and don’t stop – I was so tempted to turn up to my ordination in bright red stilettos – was only the threat that I might not be able to take part that stopped me – I went more subtle, rebellious bright red underwear. Anyway enough about that – steps and heels don’t always mix, especially in a cassock, especially if you have to kneel and then stand again – watch the hem!

So that’s some practical thoughts, and I’m sure that’s more than enough to give an ordinand or a New Rev a headache. More in the next post on how to keep your own style.

and my final and favourite of all time…;)

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  • Reply
    Caroline Armitage
    September 30, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    On the heels thing – tho I will never wear a #dogcollar having recently had to get used to wearing a cassock as I’m going down the Reader route, I’m rocking wedges

    • Reply
      October 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      go you 🙂 x

  • Reply
    Sarah McClelland
    October 1, 2016 at 8:17 am

    OMGosh (obvs) this is my life. Thanks. Other dilemmas discovered include: when you try and have these chats at college pre ordination and get accused of being antifeminist…?, when you nearly get the measurements right but not quite and the collar on the new crop top ends up off centre ?, and when you snap the collar insert and don’t have a spare handy…?

    • Reply
      October 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment, made me laugh! x

  • Reply
    Nicki Selbey
    October 1, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Loving reading your posts Jules. I doubt I will ever need the advice but it’s so interesting and often entertaining (let’s just say the red attire made me laugh).

  • Reply
    Michelle Twin Mum
    October 2, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    I can’t imagine I’m ever going to need to wear a dog collar but I’ve loved reading this and you are certainly rocking the look in that green skirt. Mich x

  • Reply
    Jill Armstead
    October 8, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Jesus wept

    • Reply
      October 8, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks Jill, I’m really not quite sure what you mean by this but happy to respond if you can clarify?

  • Reply
    October 11, 2016 at 6:05 am

    a comment from a clergy wife of 25 yrs, I have only twice seen my husband in a clerical collar! For our wedding he wore an old white hunting stock. He ocasionally wears a white tie . my grandfather died in 1957, wore a very narrow white bow tie, I remember it as rather yellow.
    A reader friend of mine was told by her high church priest 25 yrs ago not to wear white under a cassock as someone might think she was ordained

  • Reply
    Dog Collar Zone
    April 5, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Adoring perusing your posts Jules. I question I will ever require the counsel however it’s so fascinating. a remark from a church spouse of 25 yrs, I have just twice observed my significant other in an administrative neckline!

  • Reply
    Jennifer Hamlin-Navias
    May 9, 2017 at 11:48 am

    The yellow clerical shirt is u Unitarian Universalist shirt. It is the color of our Standing on the Side of Love justice movement. Look at the sleeve and you will see the hear graphic which is part of the brand. I too do not like the color. However I believe it was picked in part because when at a demonstration the color is easily seen. And they are no longer made.

  • Reply
    Diana Edis
    May 9, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    My daughter refers to the tab collar as a peak-a-boo collar. I kinda like that.

  • Reply
    Pamela Griffith Pond
    May 10, 2017 at 2:54 am

    In my experience, tab collars are, by far, the most comfortable. I prefer black, as it clearly identifies me. It opens doors — sometimes literally. For example, wearing a collar, I can walk right into an ICU. It gives me credibility when I advocate for someone with police. Even though it isn’t my best color, I recommend black.

    Regarding the microphone: As with many clothing issues, a well-placed safety pin can solve the problem. Use a large safety pin for the battery pack, and a smaller safety pin to clip on a lapel microphone. If you put the pin on the inside of your shirt, the microphone can clip to it without showing. Similarly, a pin can hold a lapel microphone on a chasuble.

    Regarding heels: Some chancels are made of movable pieces, and heels can easily get stuck in between them. Also, after a few hours of standing, feet begin to hurt. I recommend keeping the heels in your office, and putting them on after you divest yourself of your vestments. If you must wear them, consider saving them for special occasions (red heels for Pentecost!). I can’t tell you how often I’ve ended up waking through the neighborhood with a parishioner unexpectedly, and my feet have paid the price.

  • Reply
    Linda Kerswill
    March 17, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    I am just about to enter discernment at the grand age of 65 and have been trying to find any info for what I’m looking at for the next year or so. I loved your description of the struggle you went through – it described my dilemma exactly as well as the part about telling my husband which was difficult as you can imagine.

    I look forward to reading more of your journey through the crazy and rewarding world of ‘vicaring’

    Linda K

  • Reply
    October 21, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    So this is a really daft question but I’m new to wearing a collar. I’ve ordered a crop top which fits well but I can’t get the white plastic insert to look right as it pushes my collar out at the sides. Is there a particular way of bending them?

  • Reply
    November 7, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Pauline, they can be funny sometimes, sounds like you need a thinner insert which bends better – and they really do vary. Or a top made of thicker fabric!… I’ve found they do hold their shape better after a while too – I guess the plastic takes on the shape of you neck as it spends so much time in that position. Hope that helps.

  • Reply
    Ashley T
    March 22, 2023 at 2:14 am

    I have a dog collar but it’s only because of the office that I serve/gotten ordained in. So some offices differ from one another and it determines which collar you actually wear for ordination, well I’d we go buy the book of things. The dog collar, if you have anxiety you’ll need to pray your way through 😂😂😂 that’s all I have to say lol and I have no neck so that was another bummer hahahaha

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